Scholarly experts from different disciplines examine the Shi‘i origins of the discourse of social justice, a subject that has been debated at both the political and popular levels in Iran since 1979. The fist speaker will examines the origins of the idea that Shi‘ism is the religion of ‘reason’ [‘aql] and assesses its contemporary influence on Shi‘i self-views and popular discourse. Next, the second speaker will reflect on the concept of rationality and social justice in the work of Ahmad Qabel within the context of religious rationality or “Shari`at-e `Aqlani. Our third presenter will assess the sociological implications of religious practices among low-income Iranian women, who form institutions such as religious charities and rotating savings and credit associations (RSCAs) that effectively function as social safety nets. Her paper is based on empirical data gathered during field research in Tehran and several other cities during the past two years.
In streams of Shiism prior to the eleventh century and so-called Extremist sects today, Reason or ‘aql has the meaning of mystical insight, parallel to the Enlightened Reason of Neo-Platonism, and is identified with the persons of the Imams. From the tenth or eleventh century, there is a shift in the meaning of ‘aql among Twelvers; it comes to signify rationalism in theology and ratiocination in Law. Legal ‘aql in particular then becomes the special instrument of the successors of the Imams, the learned ulema. In the 20th century, ‘aql takes on a third life, descended from but distinct from the first two, as rationality or reasonableness. What has happened is that (Twelver) Shiites have seized on ‘aql as a distinctive feature of their tradition and re-interpreted it - or rather re-cast it, since the move is more imaginative than systematic - as a resource to meet the modern world. “Reason” in this guise is being used in innovative ways to advance modern ideas, including in the law, and we now routinely hear that Shiism is uniquely reasonable, progressive, and so on due to the heritage of ‘aql. In this paper, I discuss treatments of ‘aql by Shiite scholars, principally the Lebanese cleric Muhammad Jawad Maghniyah (d. 1979), but also Iranian figures such as Ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari (d. 1979). I will also consider how the idea of Shiism as the ‘religion of reason’ has influenced Shiite self-views and entered popular discourse.